St. Augustine of Hippo is one of the Christian world’s most beloved and well-known saints. His life “represents every aspect of the human life experience with all of its problems, sorrows and failures.” (Pope Benedict XVI). Augustine’s feast this year on August 28th is particularly meaningful as his life is captured for the first time in a major motion picture Restless Heart: The Confessions of St. Augustine.
St. Augustine has a special significance to the Order of the Blessed Virgin Mary of Mercy since we follow his rule of life. On August 10th 1218, Bishop Berenguer de Palou officially and solemnly constituted the Order and gave them the Rule of Saint Augustine as a norm for their life in common. This rule would shape the way that the friars live their life of prayer, penance, and witness for the next 794 years.
St. Augustine was ahead of his time
The Rule of St Augustine is the shortest of all the major rules, but quite possibly the most profound in its understanding of the human person. Augustine was in many ways “ahead of his time” in his understanding of the psychology, spirituality, and philosophy of man. He was not afraid to combine Pre-Christian philosophy and his vast experiences to the teachings of Christianity. How did he get so much wisdom? Well, Augustine by God’s grace was able to unite his problems, sorrows and failures to the Cross of Christ. He knew that the limitless God can use “all things to work for the good of those who are called according to his purpose (Romans 8:28).”
Augustine struggled so much in his life to overcome his own limitedness before he finally gave his restless heart to the God who has no limits. The Confessions reveal a man who gave himself passionately to whatever he did. Before he met the Creator, Augustine fell in love with the creation and the goodness that he found within it. His passion lead him to practice hedonism or the doctrine that pleasure is the goal of life and is man’s highest good. Augustine’s love of wisdom led him to philosophy and rhetoric. He practiced Manichaeism, or a form of dualism which denied the dignity of the body and personal responsibility for sin. After becoming disillusioned with this, Augustine went to Platonism or the belief that the Ideas alone give true knowledge as they are known by the mind. Augustine surrendered himself without limit to these things, but the restlessness continued.
Disinterested in Christianity
Despite the promptings and prayers of his mother, St. Monica, he remained disinterested with Christianity, which to him seemed simple and lacking in wisdom. Yet, one day the Lord spoke to his heart and he “took up and read” the Sacred Scriptures again. This time Augustine’s restless heart was opened to the wisdom of God, which to men appears to be foolishness. In his characteristic zeal, Augustine left everything to follow Christ. He longed to abandon the world to live in community with like-minded brothers studying Sacred Scripture and Philosophy. Yet, this was Augustine’s desire and not God’s. In the Lord’s providence, he was chosen to be bishop of Hippo. Here Augustine was forced to come face to face with so many of the errors or “isms” he had abandoned. In his diocese, were those who had forsaken Orthodox Christianity to follow Manichaeism, Donatism, and Pelagianism. Augustine’s cross would be to face once again the errors and sins of his past, but this time as a shepherd of souls.
Dangers of the “-isms”
In today’s society, there are modern forms of captivity which cause people to lose sight of the truth of the Gospel. These “-isms” plague people, as well as leave them in danger of losing their faith. The greatest of these errors is Modernism. It states that religion is essentially a matter of experience, personal and collective. There is no objective revelation from God to the human race, on which Christianity is finally based, nor any reasonable grounds for credibility in the Christian faith, based on miracles or the testimony of history. Essentially the modernist believes that faith is personal and comes from the emotions and not from doctrine or revelation. Modernism comes from the late 19th Century and has given birth to so many of the destructive thoughts of our time: Materialism, Radical Feminism, Individualism, Secularism, and Relativism. Ultimately, modernistic thought is based on the individual, not God or His revelation transmitted through the Church. The modernist is skeptical of all things. This thought pattern breeds narcissism and doubt. Not unlike Augustine’s time, these errors have penetrated to the depths of our society, the family, and even aspects of the Church.
As Christians, and particularly Mercedarians, we must combat the effects of Modernism in our society, family, and Church. How do we do this? Well, we can look to St. Augustine as a model of tireless defense of the Truth. He used faith, reason, and courage to shepherd his people who were in serious danger of denying their faith. Augustine challenged the Manicheans and Donatists to debates. He embraced philosophy and explained the reasonableness of the faith to the people of his time. All that is true, beautiful, and good can lead us to God.
Christianity is profoundly reasonable
Augustine was not afraid to debate and answer the questions of his opponents, because he knew that Christianity is profoundly reasonable. Amazingly, Augustine also used the media to promote the orthodox teaching of the Church. He used propaganda such as songs and pamphlets to catechize the people of his time. Augustine also used his sermons to teach the faith. He lived in a time where people turned to speakers for entertainment. Augustine appealed to his listener’s emotions and deepest desires by using clever “play on words.” Augustine faced much criticism for his strong defense of the orthodox faith. He was at times isolated and threatened. Yet, he courageously stood firm for the sake of those whose faith was in danger.
We too can learn from St Augustine to be clever, reasonable, and courageous in our defense of the faith. Ultimately, Modernism is a system that leads to self-destruction because it leads to individualism, narcissism, and doubt. Those who adhere to these beliefs are basing their belief in themselves and their own emotions or feelings.
We are saved with others
God is Trinity; a communion of divine persons. We who are created in His Image are called to that same communion. The human person is not meant to attain salvation alone. We are saved as a communion or Church. This is why St. Augustine wanted to go away with like-minded brothers to grow in the wisdom and understanding of God. The Rule he established for this life in common states that “all of you then live together in oneness of mind and heart, mutually honoring God in yourselves.”
It is destructive to follow modernism and focus only on my emotions or my personal beliefs. We are a part of a much greater Communion of Saints. In communion with them we follow the One, Catholic, and Apostolic Church which reveals to us the mysteries “hidden from time past (Col. 1:26).” We learn from each other and support one another on the journey to Oneness of Mind & Heart.
Video trailer: Restless Heart: The Confessions of St. Augustine